The पालखी will be here next week. With the chant of "Gyanba Tukaram!" they will usher in the festival season.
Palkhis remind me of those long processions, those वारकरी, all swaying to the rhythmic sound of टाळ and चिपळ्या crossing miles and miles on foot, having that one goal in sight, of reaching Pandharpur, the abode of Vithu Mauli. Palkhis are something that make me awe-struck. This परंपरा as we call it in Marathi, the yearly यात्रा has continued for the past thousand years. Isn't it wonderful that so many warkaris walk this walk every year? Can we do it even once in our lifetime?
In Pune, some years back, Palkhis used to take a different route. They used to pass through the Appa Balwant Chowk (ABC.) My Babai (Aai's Aai) used to stay right in that chowk, next to Prabhat talkies. Now that house is pulled down for road-widening. But I remember when we were kids, all us cousins together would wait eagerly for the Palkhis. We would crowd ourselves in the small windows on the first floor to see the processions, the warkaris; wait eagerly, craning our necks to get दर्शन of Sant Dnyaneshwar Maharaj and Sant Tukaram Maharaj Palkhis. It was always an exciting time.
I agree that when these palkhis come to our cities and towns and villages, we face a lot of issues. We face traffic jams, overcrowding, unclean places when they move to their next destination. But no one can doubt their spirit, their perseverance, their भक्ति. I know one of my friend, will disagree with all I have said here about Palkhis. But I still believe that Palkhis are one of the wonders in Maharashtrian culture.
When Palkhis passed our town, we knew that Ashadhi Ekadashi was coming soon. Ashadhi Ekadashi means साबुदाणा खिचडी. Most Maharashtrians fast on this day to pay obeisance to Vithu Mauli. We kids were just interested in the sabudana khichadi that we used to get then. Even now, I savour the test of that khichadi that's made on Ashadhi Ekadashi.
So with Palkhis the festival season begins. Shortly after Palkhis we have the month of श्रावण. Shravan means rains. Shravan means mehendi. Shravan means awesome delicacies such as ukdichya shenga on Naagpanchami, kothimbir vadya, tandalachi sandani on Shil Saptami, narali bhaat on Narali Pournima, purnachya karanjya, puranpolya, chavachya karanjya. Shravan means Shravani Somvar, Shukrawar-cha vaan. Shravan means raksha bhandhan. Shravan means Janmashtami. Shravan also means listening to those कहाणी which invariable start with "आट-पाट नगर होतं," and end with "ही साठा उत्तराची कहाणी, पाचा उत्तराची सुफळ संपूर्ण." Shravan means fun.
Right after, come Gauri-Ganpati. I don't need to tell how important this festival is for us. Every household celebrates it. Everyone eagerly welcomes Lord Ganesh at home and is equally unhappy to bid them goodbye. Ganpati means pandals on roads and music on loudspeakers. It's the time to check how many aaratis you have by-hearted. It's time to check how good can you dance the "Ganpati Dance" on the visarjan day. Ganpati means celebrations.
After a hiatus of 15 days when we pay our respects to our ancestors, we are back to celebration time.
Then comes दिवाळी! Lights, firecrackers, sweets, new clothes, new plans, new purchases, the list is never-ending. Getting up early to bathe with uttna, to light the first fataka, wearing brand new clothes and visiting temples early morning, visiting Sarasbaug, Parvati, or even Omkareshwar for Deepotsavs, visiting relatives, posting cards wishing Diwali greetings, all make Diwali what it is. Diwali brings in sweets, all kinds of them, karanjya, ladus, shankarpalya, anarase, chiwada, chirote, shev, chakli, and what not! Rangoli, diyas, akaashkandil, kille, and Diwali holidays for schools...I just can't wait for Diwali!
And then it ends like all good things. Intense four months of festivities end abruptly when Diwali is over and there's a definite lull in the feel-good quotient. Of course, as months go by, we have Tulsi Vivaah, Kojagiri Pournima, Datta Jayanti, Holi Pournima, Ranga Panchami to celebrate. But nothing can surpass the excitement of those four months of Shravan to Kartik.
Let the feast begin! (Dumbledore-style!)